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Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione gets a glow-up

Despite a complicated birth, Chianti Classico's Gran Selezione category is elevating more of the region's wines to fine-wine status than ever. Sarah Heller MW picks out some of the key factors for the future of Gran Selezione wine

Words by Sarah Heller MW

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The Collection
A vineyard in the Castellina sub-region

Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione serves as a fascinating case study in how to elevate (or, arguably, re-elevate) a region’s wines to fine-wine status. From a mere 33 producers when the category was first introduced ten years ago to 169 today – making 213 Gran Selezione wines between them – the category has seen explosive growth to 5% of total regional production, giving the region an almost unprecedented glow-up.

It hasn’t always been a smooth road: ‘the Gran Selezione had a rather complex birth,’ says Dr. Marco Pallanti of Castello di Ama – who was president of the Chianti Classico Consorzio when the Gran Selezione was proposed and approved. He recounts that many producers wanted to participate in the drafting; what ultimately emerged was a kind of parcellation carried out by the producer and not by external bodies.

The Gran Selezione category has seen explosive growth

On paper, one might argue the requirements were moderate: the wines had to be estate-grown and -produced, aged for slightly longer (30 months, of which three had to be in bottle) with slightly higher alcohol and dry extract; there weren’t geographic requirements above and beyond the stipulations of the DOCG. The wines themselves, though, were typically far more ambitious than the above would imply, often made from single sites and treated to costly, oak-laden ageing regimens.

However, the last several years, and 2023 in particular, have brought about some shifts – whether through regulations or market preferences. Below, I’ve explained some factors that may prove pivotal for the category as it moves ambitiously into its second decade.

A vineyard to the east of Greve with the Badia a Passignano monastery in the distance

A new dawn for site specificity

The most talked-about addition to the Gran Selezione has been the UGA or Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive, a broad division of this large region into 11 roughly commune-scale sub-regions (some of which are co-extensive with actual communes, like Radda, Gaiole and Castellina, and the rest of which are not). These are applicable exclusively to Gran Selezione wines and, as of July 2023, may appear on front labels.

During my travels in the region immediately before the formal approval in 2023, many producers expressed a keen interest in this shift, though the level of that interest naturally varied with the prestige (and meaningfulness) of the UGA. Lamole and Panzano, both carved out of Greve commune, are two UGAs with clearly defined identities and aren’t burdened with the awkwardness of an unpronounceable name (my apologies to Vagliagli), and hence seem much more likely to be coming soon to a shop near you.


Nearly monovarietal but not quite

Another 2023 shift has been the increase in Sangiovese from 80% to 90% of the blend. Though a seemingly minor shift, there are those who view this as yet another step away from the historical ‘formula’ of Barone Ricasoli (the historical authenticity or at least intent of which is debated), which included white Malvasia grapes along with Sangiovese and Canaiolo.

However, the vast majority of Gran Selezione wines reviewed in the Chianti Classico Report are already made up of 100% Sangiovese (not least Ricasoli itself). It is clear that the Sangiovese purists – perhaps originally inspired by the success of the varietal Sangiovese Supertuscans – have nearly won the day anyway.

Banishing the internationals

A possibly more controversial move is the exclusion of international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, to a lesser extent, Syrah, from the blend. These have – as Pallanti points out – made a home in Tuscany for at least the last 40 years and, in his view, end up ‘Chiantiggiato’ or ‘Chiantified’ by the environment (a viewpoint that aligns with my own observation during my MW studies that Tuscany somehow turns everything into Sangiovese).

Pallanti’s own iconic Gran Selezione wines incorporate some Merlot, along with the native Malvasia Nera, as does the gorgeous Don Tommaso from Principe Corsini. Among the vanishingly few other non-varietal Gran Selezione wines in our tasting, the blending partners were largely natives: highly pigmented, plush Colorino seems to outrank the more historical Canaiolo, perhaps representing the last remnants of producers’ drive to make Sangiovese darker than it naturally wants to be. Meanwhile, native grapes are playing a bigger role in the Riservas and especially Annatas, where they add some richness or complexity.


A new Gran Selezione style

Chianti Classico has the great advantage of already being what the contemporary fine-wine market wants: translucent, elegant and low in invasive oak aromas. Revisiting the early 2010’s Gran Selezione wines is a reminder of the sheer ambition that accompanied these first strides towards fine-winehood.

During a vertical tasting of their Gran Selezione, Castello di Albola’s Alessandro Gallo charted their change in style from plump and barrique-polished to something leaner and racier. The wines of today are not quite the dainty, low-alcohol featherweights of last century (most are about 14% on average, some reaching a Brunello-like 15%), but most have a luminescence and lyricism that make this one of the country’s most exciting categories to watch.